David King pretty much sums up how I feel on the cuts, except for one thing: I was surprised they weren’t worse. However, the MTA is a sharp outfit: if they have to, they’ll announce 4 percent this month, another 4 percent three months from now, and another 4 percent after that until they can meet their payroll. It’ll be…interesting…to see where we are a year from now.
There has to be long-term finance reform in transit, and no, the 30/10 doesn’t get us there. The 30/10, wonderful as it is, would enable us to build more stuff that, ultimately, we won’t be able to operate.
These cuts are going to get worse and worse, not just in LA, but everywhere, and eventually, those cuts are going to hit the train operations, too. Um, yeah. Without long-term finance reform, eventually we’re going to get to the point where the bus cuts that all the transit blogs treat as little more than a passing headline will be joined by rail service cuts.
New York is already there.
Train cutbacks might actually make people in the streets blogging and transit-advocating world actually care …maybe…about operations.
Then maybe they will spend as much time talking about the hardship that ensues from cutting services as they appear to want spend gossiping about which of their favorite celebrity transit advocates might work in Los Angeles to replace retirements.
Nah. Talking about transit’s operations problems–like getting back and forth to work in a world where services are getting cut–would be a distraction from treating transit like the jungle gym in the ultimate urban playground for twentysomethings raised on a steady diet of Friends rather than as a place where transit needs to work for people other than trust funders on pub crawls.
Whatever, right? Everybody knows operations are just a waste of money in transit. Building is where the professional and political payoff is. Advocacy for projects gets you in the position where you get to be part of the buzz. Who was the last bus operations drudge you saw featured on a transit blog, or given an high-profile award for their work?
So what to do–other than grow the hell up? I haven’t run any numbers yet, but it’s pretty clear that the Feds are not going to hand out candy for operating subsidies. Which means we are probably left with local funding sources. A place to begin thinking in terms of reform:
a) When we find new a dedicated source of funding–and we’ll have to–we’ll have to have the self-discipline NOT to promise to spend it on our addiction to building new transit projects.
New sources of funding = political nightmare. But some suggestions: Ratchet back on property tax insanity in California–ideally. So how about a 3-cent gas tax increase on local pumps? We can tell everybody we are solving congestion even though we aren’t. Sure, let’s have parking charges a la Don Shoup. But whatever funding it is, it’s not for geegaws or fripperies or extensions or new services in far-flung suburbs, at least not right now. It’s about keeping existing routes and frequencies.
With whatever funding victory may come, we can’t fall the into the political expedience trap of earmarking new funds for projects. We love to do that because taxpayers like to be able to point at a map and see what they think their money goes to.
We can’t keep indulging that. We have to start learning how to make the social marketing case for operations.
b) Create a dedicated pot for operations at the local and regional level, and expect to put money into that pot forever for transit as the municipal public service it is.
Nobody expects street sweeping to pay for itself; ditto police protection or libraries or snow clearance. Transit in cities should be treated the same way as those services. We don’t talk about “garbage collection subsidies.” It’s time to talk about funding services instead of obsessing about subsidies.
(And yeah, in case you can’t tell, I’m pissed.)
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2 thoughts on “the MTA budget cuts and the need for long-term transit finance reforms”
No one in LA cares about operations. The transit world is filled with fan boys who use transit virtually. The idea of their little precious butts touching a bus seats scares them.
Metro is managing their bus lines through the social media and blogosphere and it’s pretty damn pathetic. It’s pretty damn pathetic that people who don’t use the service are writing about it and viewed as authorities on whether or not it’s working or not working.
The big, scary political part of the operations discussion is that (largely progressive) transit advocates need to tell (largely progressive aligned) transit unions that public support for operations needs to go into added revenue miles, not bigger benefits packages. That was at least one of the stated reasons Republicans pushed to get the Feds out of the operations game.
The main political reason people go fir capital is because they CAN point to a place on the map. With operations, we need to create a convincing metric so people can make a connection between what they’re paying for and what they’re getting/seeing.
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